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Saturday, Nov. 09, 2002
Iím not all about jotting down depressing entryís as a rule but I am drawn to this incident like a laser beam.

Itís not just depressing, itís heartbreaking, in its own way. And Batten might want to avoid it altogether.

Earlier this week in our own little corner of paradise, somebody threw a party for the self anointed elite of the community, one of those tuxedo affairs where the well connected stroll about, congratulating each other on the extent of their achievements. There was finger food and gossip and, of course, no small amount of alcohol.

A fifty-year-old male attended this party, had his share of beer and hobnobbing, hopped into his expensive and moderately trendy SUV toward the end of this little shindig and drove off. It was somewhere on the lean side of midnight.

The exact accounts are a little unclear, but it seems that fifty year old ran a red light on a fairly major thoroughfare, at a pretty brisk pace, and slammed into a car driven by a 26 year old male, who happened to have his two young children in the car at the time, since he was on his way to pick up his wife from her swing shift job at the local Wal-Mart.

The young father died the next morning from his injuries, a brain hemorrhage I believe was cited. Kids were, thank God, not injured.

The fifty year old male was arrested and charged with a DUI and failure to yield, running a light, etc. He spent the night in a cell, posted a 5k personal recognizance bond and walked. Once the news surfaced of the death of the young father, he was charged with involuntary aggressive manslaughter and picked up again. As of right now, heís in jail awaiting trial.

As of right now, the two children (6 months and 3 years old) are still fatherless and a wife is still without a husband. I donít think any kind of bail money or judicial directives will ever be able to get around that.

Some interesting things began to emerge about this:

1. The fifty-year-old male had a previous DUI a few years ago. He also had several failure to yield tickets, including another red light infraction. One of those sort of poor drivers who are more common than you think.

2. The young father was staunchly anti-alcohol. So much so that he made regular contributions out of what was not a princely salary to MADD and other organizations that attempt to educate about drunk driving. From the tone of interviews with his wife, I believe that the two of them may have even counseled other victims of drunk driving. What incredible, horrible irony.

3. The father didnít die on the scene. He actually walked to the waiting ambulance for the ride to the hospital. Maybe he had a last chance to see his two kids, maybe he hung on long enough to insure their well being, hard to say.

4. The fifty-year-old, naturally enough, has a lawyer. But even the lawyer wonít be able to keep him out of jail altogether. The involuntary aggressive manslaughter charge carries a mandatory one-year jail term, with the possibility of 20 years, given a judge who gets pissed off enough. And I think he just might, as will be revealed shortly.

All of this is awful in its own way, but it happens all the time in this country and elsewhere. So why am I so caught up in it all? How does it fall into my lap?

Very simple. I know the fifty-year-old guy. Iíll even put a name to him, which by rights I should publicize his full name, as the local media did, but for now Iíll say his first name is Steve.

Steve is a designer of spaces, a color chooser and fabric-fingering member on the fringe of the construction world I dwell in. A dabbler in the creation of the trendy, the sought after. And it was my misfortune to have him as an onsite representative when Stu and I built the Mongol Barbecue Restaurant late last year.

Our architect buddy happened to be very busy at the time and couldnít spend adequate time on the job to answer questions or make choices so he sent Steve over. Steve - who knew about as much about construction as I do about picking out fabric for curtains. That alone would have been fine but Steve was persistent in his quest to not only convince us of his construction prowess, but to serve as an overseer of the unwashed and decidedly un-trendy contractors who were doing the work. That being Stu and myself.

Friction? Ohmigod. Steve was not only annoying but derisive and superficial. Not only did he not have any people skills, he tended towards the braying of the non-sensical, inexperienced sort of commands typical to those who think that building stuff should be as easy as what they watch on Home and Garden TV shows on Saturday morning. Once he realized that Stu and I were paying little attention to him, he fell into a sort of desperate pattern of running around after us, questioning our every move, badgering and whining and generally being a thick headed pest of the worst sort. At one point, when giving me pointers on how to unload a truck, my normal mild temper took a vacation and I threw him off the jobsite in such a roaring way that even the thick headed could understand (read, ďGet the hell out of here you twit!Ē)

We bitched to the architect about him, and he was actually very understanding, but to no avail. Steve kept showing up right to the bitter end of the job, he was a parasite on what otherwise was a pretty good project. Daily, for a month, I would shake my fists at the sky when Mr. Abrasive Personality would arrive and begin again the task of exasperating the Outfoxed Crew to the point of physical violence. The Mongol owners, a polite and reserved husband and wife, learned on their own of Steveís incompetence and began avoiding him, in the way only polite Mongols can, with many urgent and whispered conversations in their own language. Eventually they came to treat Stu and I as the ownersí rep far more so than Steve.

And when the Restaurant finally opened to great reviews and much fanfare, guess who decided to claim credit for all the wonderful things being said about it? You got it. That lasted until the architect caught up to his ass and there was a rather ugly confrontation about exactly who was in charge of taking the bows for achievement, but you get the picture.

Anyway. We had a few further misadventures with Steve throughout the past year, running into him at various projects like a bad penny that keeps showing up at odd times. And it was always the same Ė self promoting dumbass with more mouth than knowledge meets legendary old timers and proceeds to lecture them on his own omnipotence. In an industry rife with people to avoid at all costs, Steve was at the top of everyoneís list. How he managed to get any clients with his personality is a mystery that has never been solved.

So when I heard his name on the news the other day, my first thought was something along the lines of ďThis canít be. Itís just too weirdly perfect. The ultimate asshole gets his just reward.Ē And I felt bad about that immediately, not because it was an honest human reaction to seeing the bad seed get stepped on, but because of the family who had a good man taken from them.

Iím still struggling with that. Maybe no one should wish harm on anyone else, but it would be dishonest if I didnít say that Iím glad that this bastard is going to spend some time trying to convince Bubba-the-jailhouse-psychopath that ďIím Steve, and I know more than you do, and by the way you have no fashion sense.Ē

I suspect Bubba might take exception to that. Maybe just a little. I know Steve well enough to believe that that very scenario will be playing soon, in a penitentiary populated by people with tempers a whole lot shorter than my own.

Detached grief and a righteous sense of vindictiveness are odd bedfellows. For the record, letís just say that Iím not particularly enjoying either one.

But at least thereís one less drunk roaming around in a car, ready to take life in the most careless and selfish of ways. Thereís a trial coming that I will follow with more than a little interest.

And God as my witness, I hope thereís a judge who gets out of bed seething on that day.

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